The Golden Circle: Tales of the Luddite Chef

(Story by Katharine Kagel / Photos by Gabriella Marks)

This Luddite Chef is devoted to all things low-tech, especially when there are high-yield results to be had. We hear it everyday, we read it everyday; our sorry, exhausted planet is pleading for inspirational solutions to human desecration. As a restaurateur with breakfast, lunch and dinner services seven days a week, I have a trove of food scraps ready for reuse. As you’ll see from the story about to unfold before you, there is a brilliant, sustainable answer to reusing our city’s commercial and household daily food waste. The stage is set; now, we only need the actors—ourselves and the political will of our city’s decision makers—to make household food scrap and commercial food waste a daily system for Reunity Resources’ curbside pick up.

Lucky for us, a vibrant collaborative, win-win project awaits. An innovative project that uses the most basic of technologies—human ingenuity, imaginative brain power, compassion, dedication, mastery, patience, goodwill, backbone, joy and foresight—is already at play here in Santa Fe. Impish Juliana and pensive Tejinder Ciano, the dynamic duo who first established the small commercial cooking-oil- to bio-fuel-recycling business Reunity Resources, have grown it into an estimable full-circle, sustainable, environment-saving model. For eight years, they’ve been collecting cooking oil from some 100 businesses in Santa Fe and Albuquerque and turning it into bio-fuel. And these days, they also transform food scraps into excellent compost.

Juliana had her first vision of such resource cycling back in the third grade when she was asked to contribute to her school’s science fair. Young Juliana invented in her youthful mind a machine to vacuum pollution out of the air and send it into the soil. She didn’t have the science then, but has discovered since that she could fulfill her childhood dream with the work she and her husband Tejinder have created alongside compost expert Trevor Ortiz at Reunity Resources.

Tejinder realized through his meditation practice that he, too, wanted to contribute to a life in service beyond himself. After his college years, and playing in a band in Los Angeles, he relocated to Northern New Mexico to create a life doing his part in building a sustainable community. That’s when he met and married Juliana.

As the parents of two small boys, the Cianos are dedicated to generativity and a nurturing care for the planet, because that’s what they most want to give to their children and future generations. Their systematic solutions with the attendant ripple effect are already in high gear—right here, right now.

Their solutions lie in their creation, Reunity Resources, a nonprofit closed-loop food project. For the past four years, they’ve been collecting food scraps from some 51 area restaurants and school cafeterias. They’ve taught more than 15,000 school children how to separate their food scraps from other waste. Source-separating and processing food scraps into compost has resulted in mountains of compost for sale to area gardeners and farmers.

The compost Reunity makes has a lasting beneficial impact on Santa Fe. More than one million pounds of food scraps are diverted annually from our landfill and put to work in area farms and gardens. Their method of composting sets up the carbon sequestration cycle, which can actually reverse climate change by removing carbon from the atmosphere. (You go, little Juliana!) Last year, Reunity sold and donated a total of 8,000 cubic yards of compost to area gardens. The equivalent of 19,000 car emissions was mitigated last year alone.

Reunity transforms the mountains of food waste collections by a method known as an Aerated Static Pile composting system. They use large machinery minimally. Turning the windrows of compost can make carbon dioxide and risks the troubling possibility of the compost going anaerobic and creating methane. Reunity uses a nifty system.

Aerating the compost piles is accomplished from the inside out, with a timed fan blowing air into a perforated pipe running through the base of the piles. The regular infusion of air into the center of the piles allows the compost to “cook” at temps that reach 130-160 degrees. These high temperatures can break down not just wet scraps but also meats, dairy and citrus—items usually excluded from home-scale composting systems. Even weed seeds are killed in the high-temp processing method, so spreading this compost can be done with confidence. Because of the high-heat system, no pesticides or other possibly dangerous residuals have been found by third-party labs.

After 30 days in the Aerated Static Piles, the compost cures for a minimum of 30 days with attention to the propagation of beneficial micro-fungi, micro-bacteria and nematodes. The compost is available as top dressing for scattering on lawns, pastures or on cover crops, and also as enriched compost to amend soil for better plantings. Mulch and worm compost are also sold to add to the garden for growth enhancement and protection of plants.

OH, WORMS! Worms are farmed by Reunity in a 40-foot-long high tunnel so that the worm-castings (poop) are then packaged and sold in one-pound bags for home gardeners to enrich existing plants or as a soil amendment for initial plantings; these bags are available from Reunity Farm and also sold at Agua Fria Nursery.

The fine-screened compost in all its forms is available at Reunity Farm for pick up or delivery. Container-ready potting mixes by the cubic-foot bag or in bulk by the cubic yard for garden or farm are also available at Reunity Resources.

In March of this year, Reunity Resources purchased Santa Fe Community Farm, continuing the legacy of Founder/Farmer John Stephenson. After witnessing the ravages of hunger in war-torn Europe during and after World War II, John, a veteran, created the three-acre farm and 80-tree orchard located at San Ysidro Crossing to combat hunger here at home. John dedicated his life to growing food communally, with volunteer help, to donate to our city’s hunger-relief organizations. He loved what he called “The Golden Circle,” in which food and farm waste is composted and then put back into the farm’s soil to grow more produce for the community good. Upon his death at 102 years old, his children decided to sell to Reunity Resources so the mission their father began some 70 years ago would continue.

The farm John Stephenson created operated with the determined effort from an ever-changing corps of Santa Fe area volunteers in addition to its small board and staff. Now, under Reunity Resources’ stewardship, Reunity Farm continues the mission efficiently with their new practices. Last year alone, more than 10,000 pounds of the farm’s production was contributed to area hunger organizations—that’s roughly $25,000 worth of food to combat hunger.

A perfect example of The Loop in action is Kitchen Angels, a recipient of Reunity Farm’s donated produce. Kitchen Angels uses the donated produce to prepare daily meals delivered at no charge for their homebound clients. The food scraps that are source-separated at Kitchen Angels’ facility during food production of the recipients’ meals are then picked up by Reunity Resources for composting. Eventually, the compost and mulch is dug into Reunity Farm’s rows by farm volunteers and a few paid staff members to create healthy and flourishing crops for purchase and for Kitchen Angels, among other food-security groups.

The Food Depot, YouthWorks, Adelante Development Center, and Feeding Santa Fe also receive donated produce from the farm and orchard, and they, too, collaborate as contributing partners in this genius sustainable food loop.

This spring, to help along “The Golden Circle,” Reunity Farm needs our support. Like any community garden, upfront cash is needed at the start of the season. Reunity is issuing a $100 Farm Card, good for a 10-percent discount on all purchased produce during the growing season, both at the farm and at their booth at The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. It is my earnest hope as a dedicated luddite chef who believes in community solutions that commercial food-waste pick ups become a daily occurrence in Santa Fe. To become a local reality, household weekly food-scrap curbside pick up, as proposed to the city by Reunity Resources, needs constituent lobbying of city councilors and the mayor. Call, write, e-mail, support. The future is determined by the determined.

Reunity Resources is a community-wide effort, and its dedicated founders need us, as concerned Santa Fe citizens, to become dynamic partners in order to ensure our resources are responsibly invested. The many harmonic integrated parts of this remarkable work are inspirational and accessible to everyone. Let’s join in to help create mulch mulch more of the Cianos’ gentle but imperative community-building dream machine.


Reunity Farm

Shop for produce, flowers and fruit at The Farmstand at Reunity Farm, open Tuesdays 3-7 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.-3 p.m., June through November.

The Reunity Farm Card offers a discount of 10 percent on all purchases from Reunity Farm or The Reunity Farm Booth at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays throughout the farm’s season, June – November. The prepaid card supports The Reunity Farm Project and is used to buy produce and flowers. There’s a $100 minimum with no upward limit on the card. Limited cards are on offer for 10-percent off this season’s produce.

Buy a $10 Reunity Farm Membership and be called/messaged first for u-pick days at Reunity Farm as a delicious and nourishing perk. Visit

Experience the Farm and contribute your time to growing crops for those in need Tuesdays from 3-7 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.-3 p.m., beginning in June. Volunteers are encouraged to bring a friend and a picnic to relax and enjoy, and then work the soil and get their hands dirty.

Reunity Resources Composting

To purchase compost delivered by the yard, contact 505.393.1196.

To purchase compost/mulch/potting mix/worm castings, haul in your truck/trailer or purchase by the bag. Visit Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturdays, 9 a.m.-noon (Note: Saturdays only, April-June).

To contribute food scraps/cooking oil from your business or institution, contact 505.393.1196.

Want a home-composting collection bin in Santa Fe County? Visit Reunity will deliver the bin and pick up your home food scraps for a small fee.

Want to drop off your home composting at Reunity Farm? Drive on in to 1829 San Ysidro Crossing between 9 a.m.-5 p.m. any day, and drive 50 yards straight ahead and drop-off your food scraps at the compost sign.

More Ways to Get Involved

Home Compost Collection is not yet available for pick up in the City of Santa Fe as of this writing. Encourage your city councilors and the mayor to institute a program of curb-side home-food-waste pick up, as proposed by Reunity Resources, by emailing City Hall; visit

A letter to the newspaper of your choice calling for home-composting curbside pick-up by Reunity Resources in the City of Santa Fe might further nudge the city’s decision makers.

To make a Donation to Reunity Farm, book a workshop or presentation, schedule a field trip, or for other educational opportunities, contact To volunteer at Reunity Farm, contact

To learn more about the Farm, food collection, composting, Harvest Groups and beyond, visit

The Luddite Chef suggests: Please do whatever you can to alleviate food insecurity in our community.

We’ve Got Your Back(yard)

Courtesy of Paynes Nursery

(Story by Kelly Koepke)

Every year, homeowners pour hundreds (even thousands) of dollars, hours and energy into their gardens, yards and landscapes. According to the National Garden Survey, we spent $47.8 billion on lawn and garden retail sales last year, with a record average household spend of $503.

So when a shrub or tree fails, or that perennial labeled “full sun” from the big-box retailer shrivels and dies, we’re devastated. We shake our hands and curse Mother Nature. But we’re probably blaming the wrong cause. What if we’d gone to a local nursery instead? Had talked with someone who raised that seedling from a speck, knew exactly where and how to plant it and how much to water? We’d have succeeded for sure.

Jill Brown, landscape architect and owner of Brown, green & more is a huge advocate of local plant centers and the people who teach about, tend and sell growing things. She’s spent almost 20 years helping homeowners achieve their dream landscapes. Obviously, she says, shopping local means a win-win with money going back into the local economy, but she says, “The only way to assure that you get a plant suited for your yard is to go to a local nursery. There are so many factors to consider when purchasing plants, so sticking to local nurseries will help enormously in your landscape’s future success.”

Each one of these local nurseries and garden centers has smart people to counsel you. So stop cursing Mother Nature and start saving your yard and garden.


Agra Greenhouses of Albuquerque

2015 Gun Club Road SW


Three generations of Doherty’s work Agra Greenhouses, which specializes in flowering annuals, herbs and an explosion of vegetables—three-quarters of a million tomato and chile starts each year–from their South Valley retail outlet. Patriarch Chuck Doherty gives three reasons to shop local. “Price-wise the big-box stores might be friendlier, but not by much. Local nurseries have more variety and you can also meet face to face with the people who grew the plants,” he says. “They have expertise, rather than being someone who just waters them. But the strongest reason is that you’re keeping your dollar local. That’s the bottom line.”

Alameda Greenhouse

9515 4th St. NW


This North Valley staple is dedicated to growing and maintaining all manner of outdoor plants– veggies, fruit trees, flowers, and plenty of shrubs and perennials. Their nine greenhouses grow hundreds of pepper and tomato varieties and plant thousands of perennials every year.

Jericho Nursery

101 Alameda Blvd. NW


6921 Pan American Freeway NE


Gardening expert Rick Hobson and wife Jennifer, a landscape designer, have two locations to help with your lawn, tree care and other gardening needs–from veggies to houseplants to succulents. Store manager Amanda Clem wants local gardeners to succeed. “We have a lot of people come in for xeriscaping plants and shade trees. We frequently recommend different types of sterile elms whose low water use, fast growth, drought and disease resistance makes them the perfect shade tree for our area.”

Osuna Nursery

501 Osuna Road NE


Founded in 1980 by Korean immigrant Chang An and run today by his wife Myong, Osuna Nursery not only sells everything you might need to garden, they also hold frequent classes on everything from water conservation to landscape design to container and herb gardens. Their website also offers guides to horticulture topics like beneficial insects, pruning and caring for trees.

Parker’s Farm and Greenhouse


251 Church St. East Edgewood

For four generations, Parker’s Farm and Greenhouse has grown and sold garden plants only (no pots, soils or fertilizers). They specialize in plants for the high-altitude garden.

Perennial Delights


3871 Corrales Road

Perennial Delights offers locally grown annuals and perennials at the Corrales Growers’ Market and Los Ranchos Growers’ Market, or by appointment. They are also pollinator experts with plants supporting our birds, bees and butterflies.

Plants of the Southwest

6680 4th St. NW in Albuquerque


3095 Agua Fria St. in Santa Fe


With stores in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, as well as online, Plants of the Southwest is the go-to for professional landscapers and homeowners who want water-wise and native vegetation.

Plant World Nursery & Landscape Supplies

250 El Pueblo Road NE


The largest wholesale nursery in New Mexico, Plant World sells to the trade and the public. They can also source large and hard-to-find specimens and carry a huge selection of hardscape materials and supplies.

Rehm’s Nursery & Garden Center

5801 Lomas Blvd NE


Known as the “Purple Greenhouse,” Rehm’s has been growing trees, shrubs and more for 80-plus years. Owner Tammy Hayman says she’s blessed with knowledgeable staff and provides a wide selection of heirloom, unique or hard-to-find vegetables. “We’re doing more organic, and sell a lot of beneficial insects like ladybugs and green lacewings,” she says. “When you go to a big box, nobody is ever there to help, or they don’t know what they are talking about. We do.”

Rio Valley Greenhouses

2000 Harzman Road SW


This small greenhouse in the South Valley provides locally grown annuals, perennials, vegetable starts, New Mexico chiles, herbs and more. Shop from their greenhouse and at the Railyards and Downtown Growers’ Markets.

Santa Ana Garden Center

960 US-550 in Bernalillo


Santa Ana Garden Center offers plants grown from locally gathered seed and raised at their nursery on the Santa Ana Pueblo, which ensures the hardiness of their plants for north central New Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley.

Santa Fe

Agua Fria Nursery

1409 Agua Fria St.


Agua Fria Nursery specializes in native and exotic perennials, shrubs and succulents. Their naturally grown plants, trees and other greenery, and their vegetable selection, are hard to match.

Newman’s Nursery

7501 Cerrillos Road


Newman’s offers a full selection of nursery plants and trees, including an excellent variety of fruit, flowering and shade trees, shrubs and drought tolerant perennials, as well as vegetables and soils. Owner Malcolm Newman prides himself on having the largest collection of fruit trees and roses in New Mexico. “We have over 1,000 trees like Asian Pears, Rainier cherries, Pink Lady and other older varieties of apples like Macintosh and Spitenzberg,” he says. “And we have over 4,500 rose bushes each year.”

Payne’s Nurseries

Payne’s South

715 St. Michael’s Dr.


Payne’s North

304 Camino Alire


Payne’s Organic Soil Yard

6037 Agua Fria St.


The Payne family has been in the nursery business in Santa Fe since 1952, with two full-service locations and their own organic soil yard that composts the green waste from the City of Santa Fe, offering it back to the public. Owner Lynn Payne knows the climate and soil, what grows here and doesn’t, and offers only landscape and garden plants he knows will survive and thrive. “A big box has a buyer for an entire region,” he says. “The buyer for Santa Fe might be in Phoenix, [Ariz.]. So when the tag for a perennial or shade tree says sun, it’s nowhere near being winter-hardy here. That will never happen in an independent, local nursery.


Tooley’s Trees

1301 Road (dirt road off Rt. 76) in Truchas


Tooley’s Trees retail and wholesale nursery on the highroad between Santa Fe and Taos grows trees, shrubs and grafted fruits. They focus on varieties that are drought tolerant and adapted to our high pH soil.

Petree’s Nursery & Greenhouses

25 Petree Lane


Northern New Mexico’s oldest and largest nursery with 10 greenhouses and acres of trees and shrubs, Petree’s caters to both the professional landscaper and the residential newbie getting started with houseplants or a container of tomatoes and chile. Owner Sylvia Petree says, “Service, knowledge and an experienced staff mean that our customers get to talk to people who know what grows here. Local nurseries provide information based on their own their gardening experience as well. We are the grower, so our quality is beyond compare.”

A Smidgeon of Homesteading

Alegria Farmstead

(Story by Cullen Curtiss / Photographs by readers)

The beneficiaries of 1862 Homestead Act must have been a bold bunch. Yes, the government granted them up to 160 acres of Western-ho land, but in exchange for keeping it and the opportunity to buy it, these hardscrabble folks had to tame it and make it produce. As we order boxed cereal to arrive at our door with the click of a mouse, we may struggle to fathom living even a smidgeon of this lifestyle.

For 20-some years at Local Flavor, we’ve featured hardcore 21st-century homesteaders, who’ve devoted their lives to extreme self-sufficiency. We’ve learned a lot, including the fact that those who homestead just a smidgeon are also pretty hearty. In fact, we feel any amount of homesteading is noble in the effort to live independently and believe in one’s own industriousness. In response to our call for stories from those composting, hunting, foraging, gardening, farming, sewing their own clothes, and beekeeping a smidgeon, we received a full crop of responses. Thank you all. We celebrate your self-reliance as you inspire us toward a more do-it-yourself lifestyle.

For consultant and teacher Rachel Hillier of Corrales’ Little Dirt Farms, self-reliance starts with the soil. And it’s about soil on the mend with her latest project at the two-and-a-half-acre

Courtesy of Albuquerque Museum

Heritage Field on the Albuquerque Museum’s Casa San Ysidro property. “Soil restoration is essential to sustainability,” she says. Appropriately, her “Introduction to Homesteading” curriculum begins on April 27 with a class titled Soil Prep and Pest Management and ends in October with Soil Restoration and Cover Crops. The 11-class hands-on program will help participants understand the ecological restoration in process on Heritage Field, the time necessary to grow local organic food, and the ancestral methods of farming and sustainability used by Spanish and Native peoples. Rachel will also introduce the idea of teamwork as a homesteading concept, which might seem anathema to the sovereign. “Determine your area of strength, and collaborate,” she insists.

Courtesy of Sam McCarthy

Another super soil advocate is Santa Fean Sam McCarthy, who shares, “When I was a kid my mother would say she wished to be buried in a compost heap. Now I raise red worms and teach people how to use them to develop fertile soil through composting.” Twenty years ago, red worms invited themselves into Sam’s backyard compost pile. He now sells generations of these red wrigglers under the name Do It With Worms at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, where he also talks with the full spectrum of individuals—enthusiast to grossed-out naysayer—to help them become composters of their household scraps and yard waste with “the least labor and the least water.” He says, “Composting in your backyard takes the burden off the local landfill, and leads to long-term carbon sequestration. Healthy soil leads to healthy gardens, which lead to healthy people.”

Two of many healthy Do It With Worms customers are Melissa Homann, a retired chef, and her husband Joe, who’ve gardened everywhere they’ve

Courtesy of Melissa Homann

ever lived—window boxes in a five-flight walk-up on Manhattan’s East 4th Street, an alfalfa field in Pojoaque, a backyard rental in Brooklyn. When they moved to Albuquerque, the first thing they bought was a composting bin. Due to their particularly stubborn patch of ground, they’ve also introduced fertilizing chicken poop pellets and calcium to the soil to help the roots absorb nutrients; as well, they sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the cement block walls, “because Albuquerque has a serious cockroach problem.” In the fall, they plant a cover crop of rye or red clover. Melissa and Joe have taken advantage of Albuquerque’s gardening, composting and water classes, learning, among other things, to aerate the city’s water before applying it to their plants, to employ vertical piping with holes to guide water into the soil roots, and to mulch with straw bale. Melissa says, “I bucket all the water I use for washing vegetables back into watering the garden. Lots of hauling!” To which she also enthusiastically adds, “Shop for your produce out back! Last year, the leeks were amazing. Carrots and radishes the year before. It’s always a surprise.”

Courtesy of Andrea Balter

Santa Fean Andrea Balter, a retired Los Angeles police officer, shares the same joy, but for her 19 girls. “I am enchanted with my hens,” she says. Andrea has several breeds, including Columbian Wyandotte’s, Production Reds and Araucana. And these beauties yield pink, blue and several shades of brown eggs, which she’ll sell if she cannot eat. She uses the hens’ nitrogen-rich droppings in her compost piles, which in turn help grow her veggies. “It’s a wonderful feeling to have a sense of self-sufficiency, and raise chickens in a way that is healthy and happy,” Andrea says. “Factory farming is so brutal, that if one does some research, one might never buy another egg!”

The theme of excitement continues on a large scale with Farm & Landscape Manager Wes Brittenham of Los Poblanos Historic Inn &

Courtesy of Wes Brittenham

Organic Farm, whose team is in constant conversation on 25 acres of ancestral agricultural land. He says, “Our homegrown food travels less than 300 yards from the field to your fork!” Wes describes blooming fruit trees, month-old chicks awaiting new digs, Slovenian beehives, fields primed for planting edible and decorative flowers, as well as nearly 1,000 new lavender plants, garlic coming up, several hoop houses yielding multiple harvests of greens and radishes, and carrots to come. Meanwhile, a variety of seedling trays promise exuberant starts. As for the essential elements of water and earth, Los Poblanos practices conservation, managing flows from the acequia, and treats its soil with cover crops, manure and compost, which Wes calls “homegrown,” lovingly mixed and layered with offerings from the kitchen, the landscapes and plant materials—using the strength of a tractor. Wes writes, “We are so excited to be a source of local, organic and fresh food to share with our guests, visitors, the community and each other.”

Courtesy of Philip Rothwell

While the “strength of a tractor” is not always necessary, “non-stop hard work, experimentation, education and lots of trial and error” are. Phil and Nazca Warren of Alegria Farmstead bought their half-acre land in Ribera in 2010. “It was completely over-run with weeds and trash, and the house needed renovating. We created earthworks, water catchment systems, fixed drainages and pathways, carved rows in the field and double-dug beds. With water harvesting and permaculture, the land is healing and our harvests are abundant,” they write. Their micro-farm, which includes some fowl, is mainly subsistence, but they sell some harvest at the Tri-County Farmers’ Market and the Eldorado Farmers’ Market. All grown from organic heirloom seeds, their crops include lettuce mix, kale, chard, arugula, walking onions, sunflower sprouts, tomatoes, green beans, herbs, corn, amaranth, carrots and radishes. They also wildcraft seasonal edible plants and medicinal herbs to make remedies. Nazca writes, “It’s humbling to grow in Northern New Mexico,” but she indicates that’s just a part of the overall journey.

For Resa Sawyer of the Middle Aged Spread at Aspenwind Farm on Taos Pueblo the journey has been decades-long, homesteading in various locales and living off-grid, growing food and medicine, saving seed, raising honeybees, dairy goats, chickens and guinea hens, and using her farm products to create goat milk and honey soaps, shampoo, herbal salves and lotion bars. In 2017, she moved to 20 acres on Taos Pueblo, where she built barns, erected fencing, planted fruit trees, shrubs, and perennial herbs and flowers, not only for product ingredients, but to provide nectar and pollen for a burgeoning apiary. Resa also serves on the board of the Pueblo’s Red Willow Farm, a nonprofit community farm and educational center. “Our priorities are not to just make use of water and land, but to reinvigorate the skills of self-reliance,” she writes. “In an age when Romaine lettuce can kill you and there is no security in our current economy, the true benefits of a homesteading life can’t be quantified.”

Also in Taos is Nan Fischer, who founded Taos Seed Exchange, a free community service for home gardeners to share their seed. Through the organization, Nan has become a bit of a

Courtesy of Nan Fischer

guru in the community, teaching people how to grow their own food, put it up, and save seed. She also sells nursery starts. “My garden is mostly things I can store, freeze or can—zucchini, dry beans, beets, carrots, green beans, garlic, soup peas, snow peas,” she says. “I have a greenhouse and use row covers and frost cloth to extend the season. You can’t get the flavor or quality of homegrown food out of season. It’s cheaper, tastier and more nutritious than buying. And it’s exhilarating and rewarding to eat your own broccoli or squash in January! It makes the hard work so worth it!”

Courtesy of Anna Martinez

Same goes for Nathalie Bonnard-Grenet, owner with her husband Chef Xavier Grenet of Restaurant L’Olivier in Santa Fe. In addition to the restaurant, she manages up to seven beehives. “They are magical because of what they produce—honey, propolis, pollen, wax,” she says. Nathalie describes the restaurant’s location on the tree-lined river as a great spot for one hive. Contrary to popular belief, honeymaking bees such as hers are “nice,” so guests on their patio are completely safe. Just last year, Nathalie harvested 170 pounds of honey, using it in restaurant dishes like Honey Ice Cream, Briouat Dessert, Honey-Glazed Pork Chop and Honey-Glazed Roasted Squash. Her hope is to inspire others to try beekeeping and help bees survive. “They are the main pollinators for our trees and flowers,” she says.

While the aforementioned have chosen to create some independence from modern convenience and are generally thrilled by the hard work and grateful for the rewards, they are aware they are standing on the aching backs of those who came before. On display in the form of artifacts, photographs and biographical profiles, through the summer at Los Alamos’ Municipal Building is the Women of the Homesteading Era exhibition. Imagine the Pajarito Plateau between 1887 and 1942 (when the Manhattan Project arrived), where 30 Hispano families and six Anglo families homesteaded and dry farmed. The exhibit highlights the lives of three women, fighting bad weather, insects and other threats. After your perusal, you might pick up a Los Alamos Homestead Tour brochure, which will guide you to sites of homesteads around town, in and amongst gas stations, clothing, hardware and grocery stores, and convenience marts—evidence that we’ve progressed so far that we want to go back, even if just a smidgeon.

Pioneering New Mexico’s Farm Food Revolution

Image by Deborah Fleig

Image by Deborah Fleig

(Story by Lynn Cline)

The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market began 50 years ago as a small group of growers selling produce on Saturdays out of the back of their pick-up trucks. Those pioneers could hardly have imagined how their market would blossom. With 150 farmers across Northern New Mexico selling fresh food grown in the high desert to eager shoppers and restaurant chefs year-round, it’s become not only a Santa Fe treasure but one of the country’s biggest, oldest and most successful farmers’ markets.

The Santa Fe restaurant community has played a vital role in the market’s success, as chefs began purchasing lettuce, vegetables, fruits, meat, cheese and other items from area farmers and ranchers long before the farm to table and buy local, buy organic movements took root in New Mexico.

“Local restaurants certainly contribute to the financial viability of the farmers,” says Kierstan Pickens, executive director of the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute. “A few restaurants in town—Il Piatto [Italian Farmhouse Kitchen] and 315 [Restaurant & Wine Bar] come to mind—have been purchasing local ingredients since before farm to restaurant was a thing. Early on market days, you’ll see chefs roaming the market, picking up wholesale pre-order from specific farms while also perusing what’s fresh and available that day. Squash blossoms are an especially popular seasonal item. Chefs buy local because they want the freshest, most delicious ingredients for their dishes. It’s why they choose to shop here. The quality cannot be beat. And it helps to keep money in the local economy.”

Image by Doug Merriam

Image by Doug Merriam

Chef Matt Yohalem, owner of Il Piatto, has been an ardent shopper at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market since the early 1990s, after moving here from New York City and opening Bistro 315, followed by Il Piatto. “At 315, Louis Moskow and I would go to the trailers and pick out everything,” Chef Matt says. “We’d get squash blossoms and 14 kinds of eggplant. We had endless energy, and we’d get back to the restaurant and say ‘I got an idea, I got an idea!’ I easily spent $50,000 to $100,000 a year at the market and that was my main source. I was amazed at how much variety they had than what I thought would be out here in the high desert.”

At 315 Restaurant & Wine Bar, Chef/Owner Louis Moskow remains a devotee of local, seasonal farm-grown ingredients. “I feel a certain obligation to support what I believe in,” Louis says. “In addition to keeping my money local and supporting local farming, I particularly enjoy the structure my menu gets by following rules of local seasonality. I only serve what is growing at the time. I like being told what to cook and when, the way nature intended.”

Deborah Madison, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and private cooking teacher in Galisteo, has long been a passionate advocate of farmers’ markets, and has written a book about them, Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from Americas Farmers Markets. “I really appreciate the foods that have sustained New Mexicans for generations, such as the chile and dried corn, whether posole, corn, corn seeds, chicos, masa, corn meal or whatever form it’s in,” Deborah says. “If I were visiting here, that’s what I’d be thrilled to find. In fact, these are the foods I was thrilled to find when I first came here in the l970s, and I brought them back to San Francisco to serve at my restaurant, Greens. But our real treasures are the farmers who have been growing their crops for a long time—and you have to know the market to know who they are. I treasure Stanley Crawford [who sold at the very first market], as well as his garlic and shallots and books. Or the person who is selling seeds, or incense, or more native food and plants.”

Image by Gabriella Marks

Image by Gabriella Marks

At Joe’s Dining, owner Roland Richter estimates he shops the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market 45 out of 52 Saturdays a year. “I love seeing the people who are producing the products, talking to them, asking them about what kind of challenges they have, what they’re going to have next week,” Roland says. “I love having a pulse on the environment, and how certain farmers are growing certain things. Many of the farmers are very good acquaintances now.”

By sourcing the farmers’ market for ingredients, Roland shows his customers how much he cares about what they eat. “It distinguishes us from the big stores, the multinational restaurants who just aren’t doing what we do,” he says. “They are spending so much money on marketing and image and we don’t do that. We spend our money on the ingredients for the food. ”

In turn, Joe’s Dining customers keep coming back for seasonal dishes like Margherita Pizza with fresh summer tomatoes. “They all love the idea that there are really strong standards to the tomatoes that we use,” Roland says. “They have to be soil-grown and sun-ripened. The tomatoes never see a refrigerator. They’re from a local farmer; they didn’t travel thousands of miles. It’s just like growing them in your own backyard and our customers enjoy them while they’re in season, along with apricots, cherries, peaches and corn. Most of the market foods are certified organic and some farmers use better principles than organic, as written down by law.”

Not surprisingly, farmers’ market shoppers develop a strong bond with the ingredients they purchase. “The food is alive!” Deborah Madison says. “It has a way of inspiring me that food from the store just doesn’t—unless it’s a store that happens to carry that food, and most don’t, and let’s face it, it’s not going to be as fresh as it is at the market, even when they do buy from the farmers. I also appreciate knowing and speaking to those who raise the food I eat. Sometimes their stories are hard—as they are this year with the drought, despite the monsoons. It’s important to see that and know that. That’s when we might just see that we’re actually in a precarious position vis à vis our food.”

Image by Kitty Leaken

Image by Kitty Leaken

Easy access to fresh, flavorful, farm-grown ingredients has helped to grow the farm to table and buy local, buy organic revolutions in New Mexico, and both these movements are vividly on display at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market.

“My only real experience with local farm to table and organic practices are witnessed at the farmers’ market where scores of people come to support the movement,” Chef Louis says. “Judging by the attendance, I would have to say it is a great success.”

Visit the market any day of the week, and you’ll see the relationship between farmers and chefs and home cooks. “I’d recommend coming to the market early on a Saturday morning and witnessing the exchange between chef and farmer,” Kierstan Pickens says. “Chefs wandering about with big bags of greens and other produce, picking up orders and dropping off checks. Discussing with farmers what’s going to be available when, do you have any more of this, can I get the last of that. I have seen Matt Yohalem stop by our small and quiet Wednesday market first thing in the afternoon to wipe out the entire supply of cauliflower from one vendor for the last two-three weeks. We’ve witnessed a vendor announcing bulk cherries for sale on Instagram, only to see Chef Rocky Durham respond within five minutes and stop by the market shortly thereafter to buy ALL the cherries she had that day. That’s really how it plays out. So much of the market is about community. The community between chef and farmer, farmer to farmer, farmer to customer and all the intersections in between. I think chefs and restaurants have helped to put a spotlight on local food and why it’s so important and delicious. But I think food-access programs like Double Up Food Bucks (we double SNAP transactions at the market) and our simple Market Fresh Cooking demos go a long way to help influence families as well.”

It’s with a keen eye toward the future that Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen Chef Scott Eastburn ardently uses fresh, local, farm-grown ingredients. “I feel that when I purchase from vendors at the Farmers’ Market, I am spending money in a conscious way,” Chef Scott says. “Not only do I support my friends, the farmers, but I am able to participate in a localized movement that cultivates more than just soil, but art, education and community. Farm to table is about bringing the best food to the table that I can. But it is also about espousing a set of values for a better tomorrow. My children will be raised at the farmers’ market along with the children of the farmers. Together, they may create a future that is bright, fulfilling and full from the value of things created and shared.”

Urban Rebels–Greens with an Attitude

Image by Stephen Lang

Image by Stephen Lang

(Story by Lynn Cline / Photos by Stephen Lang)

Microgreens may be small, but when they’re grown by Santa Fe’s Urban Rebel Farms, they’re packed with mighty flavors—the kind you can’t forget. Perhaps you’ve savored their zesty taste at some of the best-loved restaurants in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Or you’ve been drawn to their vibrant beauty at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. However you’ve discovered these marvelous microgreens, it might surprise you to learn that they’re all grown indoors, in a 220-square-foot room attached to the Santa Fe home of one of the “rebels.”

Jerome Baca and Joey Jacques, friends since middle school, are the dynamic duo behind Urban Rebel Farms. They’re devoted to their edible young herbs, vegetables and grains. Once you’ve sampled the bright, bold flavors of feisty garnish peas, anise hyssop, Florence fennel and any of the other jewel-like microgreens conscientiously grown at Urban Rebel Farms, you’ll fall in love, too.

“When we started growing these, we couldn’t wrap our minds around how flavorful our greens were,” Joey says, relaxing in Jerome’s kitchen as the pair enthusiastically discusses their blooming business. “I’ve tasted microgreens before. They didn’t have that much flavor. But I thought, these really hit you. Wow, they’ve got attitude.”

Urban Rebel Farms’ nutrient powerhouses begin as non GMO-seeds that are nurtured by a vertical growing system. This includes a water-efficient container gardening system, energy-efficient LED lighting and a pure plant-based soil made of fibers from coconut shell husks. Known as coco coir, this renewable resource has no animal byproduct or chemicals often found in peat. It also provides excellent water retention and drainage. Instead of fertilizers, these greens are fed a proprietary, customized, plant-based tea brew of beneficial bacteria, enzymes and kelp.

On the day I visit, the growing microgreens—stacked on 14 racks of six shelves each, with eight trays lining each shelf—are surrounded by lilting strains of classical music. Jerome smiles when asked whether he’s playing the music to stimulate the plants. No, he says, it’s actually helping to reduce his stress.

Urban Rebel Farms began selling its veganic microgreens to local restaurants last February, and at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market last spring. “We slowly grew until last August, when all of a sudden the business doubled in size and we were full,” Joey says. Their first customer was Bouche Bistro—Chef Charles Dale’s first purchase was peas. Today, Urban Rebel supplies some 20 restaurants in Santa Fe and Albuquerque as well as customers at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market and the Rail Yards Market in Albuquerque.

In the beginning, Urban Rebel Farms offered just 10 microgreens, including peas. “When I tasted our first peas, I said ‘Gosh, these things taste terrible, no one’s going to want them,’” Jerome recalls. “The funny thing is, they are our bestseller. We’ve had to grow different varieties of peas in order to get to the type of peas that wouldn’t stretch too much, or that would grow slow.” Other popular items include cilantro, amaranth and mustard scarlet frill, but they’ve garnered fans for each of the 38 varieties they now offer.

Image by Stephen Lang

Image by Stephen Lang

It’s no surprise that these Urban Rebel farmers get along like two peas in a pod. “We’ve been friends since we met at Capshaw Middle School and we’ve known each other for 30 years,” Jerome says. “The last two years have been the most testing of our friendship,” he adds with a grin.

Neither Jerome nor Joey had any experience in gardening when they started, though Jerome has spent the last eight years working at All Seasons Gardening in Albuquerque, which offers gardening supplies from A to Z as well as help with hydroponic gardening. “I had a friend working there in hydroponic gardening, so I started working there a few days a week,” he says. “Seven years ago, I became manager. That’s where I learned the basic ins and outs of growing in controlled environments. I was talking to Joey about the whole situation, and I said, ‘Hey, what do you think about growing microgreens? You should research it and see if it’s viable.’”

Joey had different plans in mind. “At the time he approached me, I was about to graduate from the University of New Mexico with a degree in economics and philosophy,” he says. “The plan was to go to law school, but for some reason, this seemed like a great idea.” Joey and Jerome learned their trade by trial and error, perfecting the growing conditions for their prized plants. The decision to use living trays—recyclable, compostable trays for growing and delivering living microgreens to chefs instead of snippings—improved their product along with their sales. “When we started selling with the living tray concept, that’s when it really took off,” Joey says. “I’m really proud of our product now. It has a difference in integrity.”

Image by Stephen Lang

Image by Stephen Lang

When it came time to unveil Urban Rebel Farm’s microgreens to restaurant chefs, Joey drew from his experience working in Santa Fe restaurants in order to open doors. “I started working in the restaurant industry when I was 16 or 17 at Las Campanas Clubhouse,” he says. “I worked at a lot of venues in the industry, including Terra with Charles Dale, and we now provide to his three restaurants, Bouche Bistro, Trattoria a Mano and Maize.”

The responsibilities at Urban Rebel Farms are divided. Jerome oversees most of the microgreens production and Joey handles sales, billing and bookkeeping. “Joey’s really taken over control of our business, and it’s nice to know that he can do that,” Jerome says. But even with the division of labor, the enterprise requires a lot of work. Both men are married with young kids; Jerome has a two-year-old and a seven-year-old, and Joey has an 11-year-old son whose baseball team he coaches. Two interns help lessen the load—one intern is learning the sales side and the other helps in the vertical garden. “The hardest part has been balancing work and family time together,” Jerome says. “It helps to have two of us so that we can confer and fix a problem.”

The business partners are thrilled about the popularity of their microgreens. “The amount of success we’ve had in such a short period of time has definitely surprised me,” Jerome says. “I almost feel that we have an obligation to our customers, especially the farmer’s market customers. We have people who are changing their diets, who have debilitating diseases, and are actually counting on us to grow this.” That’s because, according to studies by the University of Johns Hopkins, microgreens have five to 40 times more sulforaphane than the adult version, Jerome says, and this antioxidant molecule in cruciferous vegetables is thought to help fight cancer and other diseases.

Joey appreciates the healthful value and flavor of their microgreens, though the boom in business has limited what’s available to him. “I love to make nutrient-dense smoothies in the morning; putting them on my sandwiches to give them some attitude; tumbling fresh amaranth in my buttery mashed potatoes; baking peas into pea chips; rolling our shiso, basil, Thai basil, lemon basil and mustard micros in my homemade stir fry; or muddling some of our herbs into a well-deserved cocktail after a long day,” he says. “Truth is, I put them on everything if I’m lucky enough to have them. These days, there is almost no leftover product.”

A Farmer’s Dream

Image by Doug Merriam

Image by Douglas Merriam

(Story by Tina Deines / Images by Doug Merriam)

Farming is in José Gonzalez’s blood. After all, he’s a third-generation farmer and started learning the ropes from his grandparents and mother at age 5. José and his wife María run Gonzalez Farms, a 12-year member of the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market community. The pair won the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute’s Farmer All Star award in 2015, an honor chosen by their peers. While José said the award made him “feel very good,” he and María have even bigger dreams. They’d like to own their own land, a goal they’re steadily working toward. But no dream comes without its challenges.

As I pull up to the Gonzalez home, José—dressed in cowboy boots, a black cowboy hat and white button-down flamingo-adorned shirt—comes to greet me with a smile, while María helps gather extra chairs. Two curious children—8-year-old Mia and 5-year-old Dominic—join us for the interview, while 1-year-old Logan sleeps soundly through the whole thing.

“I love my work,” are José’s first words when I ask him to tell me a little about his farm, which produces a variety of crops including chile, squash, cucumbers, corn, potatoes, beans and sunflowers. María, who crafts and sells chile ristras and other decorative items using herbs and flowers, echoed that sentiment about her own efforts. She says she treasures having the opportunity to stay at home and care for her family while also working. In Spanish, she describes the process of making her chile crafts (crosses are her favorite thing to create). The key, she says, is working with the Sandia chiles—grown right on the farm by José—while they’re still fresh and pliable.

She learned the methods herself when she moved to the United States from Guanajuato, Mexico, 12 years ago with José. “She’s very smart,” José says, beaming proudly. “She just saw some at the farmers’ market and she learned.”

María had never seen anything like a chile ristra in Mexico, she says. “The first time I saw them, I thought that they were something to eat, but I found out they were decorations,” she laughs. She admits that her first chile ristra was a hard sell in the market community—she winces a bit as she describes how she had tried to sell it at the market for two weeks without any success. After that initial failure, she doubled down and improved her ristra-crafting skills. She says she labored for about a year to perfect her art. In addition to her chile ristras and crosses, María also creates flower decorations and sage animals like burros, a popular symbol of Mexican agriculture and a reminder of her heritage.

María says she’s inspired by many of New Mexico’s trademark cultural icons—buffalo dancers, kokopelli, sage and turquoise. “I like making a lot of different things,” she says, noting that if she weren’t making decorations, she might be working as a stylist or in another creative field.

José’s been involved in his craft—agriculture—since he was just 5 years old. In a small village in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, where he lived until coming to New Mexico with his mother and two brothers at age 9, he learned about farming from his grandparents and mother. “I grew up on a farm,” José says. “I remember watching my grandparents in Guanajuato. At that time, we grew a lot of beans and corn.” But farming in New Mexico is a lot different than Guanajuato. There, he says, they depended entirely on rain with no irrigation or other water systems in place. Here in New Mexico, the Gonzalezes use acequia irrigation, which is becoming more and more difficult due to the current drought.

Image by Douglas Merriam

Image by Douglas Merriam

“It’s scary,” José says. “Right now, we’re OK with water, but we don’t know what’s going to happen this summer.” He also says the growing season is comparatively short in New Mexico. That’s why he and María want to build more greenhouses to help them harvest crops year-round.

In addition to the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, the Gonzalez farm also sells at farmers’ markets in Taos and Los Alamos, as well as at the Eldorado Farmers’ Market in Santa Fe. “If we have a good season, we sell a lot to restaurants,” José says. “If it’s a bad season or not enough produce, we sell at just the markets.”

While the farm is not certified organic, José utilizes natural growing methods—no pesticides or chemicals. “Everything I use from seeds and soil is certified organic. No GMOs or pesticides,” he says. “I feel good because I know what my family’s eating and I don’t want to poison myself.” He also says his all-natural approach is a selling point with his customers, some of whom have been coming to him for years. “They trust us,” he says.

The family lives just far enough outside of Española to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. And José likes it that way. “I tried to move but I didn’t like the traffic and big buildings,” he says, smiling. José needn’t worry about that—out here, only a few dispersed neighbors, a quiet two-lane highway and the nearby Rio Grande speckle the landscape.

Currently, a small garden and greenhouse greet you as you enter the Gonzalez’s drive—oddly, this is the only hint of farming at a farmer’s home. That’s because the Gonzalezes rent two parcels of land totaling four acres about 20 minutes away from their residence. The couple dreams of one day buying their own land with a home onsite. But the Gonzalezes can’t purchase their land and home until they build enough credit to convince the banks to give them a loan.

“It’s kind of a big issue,” José says. “We just want to work harder to make it our own property and get our own place.” He says he’d love to reside in the Alcalde area, just a hop and a skip away from their current home, because the area benefits from easy access to the Rio Grande.

According to Melissa Willis, program director for the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute, this problem isn’t unique to the Gonzalez family. “Typically, banks won’t even look at farmers when considering any type of loan,” she says, explaining that banks consider farming a “high-risk business.” Crop yields are dependent on weather—rain (or lack thereof), temperatures, wind. Add to that the cash-based economy of the profession, which makes it nearly impossible to build credit, she says.

Image by Doug Merriam

Image by Douglas Merriam

The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute offers a way for small farmers to build their credit and their business by offering low-interest microloans to farmers like José and Maria, who have been taking advantage of the program since 2014. In addition, borrowers benefit from access to other tools like financial counseling, thanks to a partnership with Guadalupe Credit Union. “Not only have we helped them build their credit,” Melissa says, “but we’re giving them access to other resources that will hopefully help them get their land.”

“It’s a good opportunity,” José says. “Sometimes, we don’t have enough money left to buy seeds. And we’re building credit, too.” According to Melissa, the Gonzalezes are the perfect candidates for the microloan program, not to mention a positive force in the community. “They show up to almost every market we have,” she says. “They always have smiles on their faces.”

For now, it’s a slow and steady climb toward their dream. In the meantime, the Gonzalezes will keep doing what they love—growing food, making chile decorations and interacting with their customers.

As I leave, José has one more project he’d like to tell me about. He points to an old postal truck in the corner of his property. With a grin, he says he wants to convert the truck—which he found online—into the Gonzalez Farms Taco Truck. But kitchen equipment is expensive and project taco truck might take a while to get off the ground. “It needs a lot of work,” he laughs.